Our last day in Scotland was a literary one.
We started the day with breakfast and delicious coffee at the cafe where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter. They’re not shy about it, but it’s also clear why she went there every day. Good food, good atmosphere, good coffee. It was a wonderful last breakfast.
After that, we went in search of Chris’s ancestor, William Blackwood. Research had shown us that Blackwood Publishing was formerly at 45 George Street, and we walked over to the building to check it out. It’s now a women’s clothing store, but they haven’t changed the architecture at all and we were amazed to see that William’s writing room in the back had a gorgeous domed skylight. Really ostentatious, and you would never have guessed by looking at the very front.
Then, we wanted to find copies of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. It ran for 150 years, so we figured we’d be able to find some in a used bookstore or thrift store. We traipsed all over old and new towns (New Town Edinburgh is also full of stone buildings and cobblestone streets and was built in the 1800s) visiting used book stores. Oh, what a burden. (that’s sarcasm)
We ended up in one book store that on later reading had originally belonged to William Blackwood in the 1800s. So, there’s basically been a used book store on that site for 150 years. The lady working behind the counter was clearly just there for the paycheck, had never heard of the magazine, and didn’t care to even point us to where periodicals or local publishing might be. We browsed around and I found a gem of a book about dying with scottish plants, then we wandered on our way.
Feeling defeated, we decided to venture to Holyrood, where there’s a lovely park and a big palace with a clothing museum inside. I was really eager for that clothing museum. However, when we got there the place was shut down with ridonkulous security, and we were informed by a delighted security guard that Her Majesty was present, and was throwing a garden party with some 5K guests. I mentioned that our invitation must have gotten lost in the mail but he was having none of it. We decided to go find a tea shoppe and collect some flowers for pressing.
Now, let me let you in on something: every place in scotland serves tea. And they don’t do it like America either, where you get a cup of hot water and some packaged tea bags. No, they bring you a pot of hot water with leaves in it, you wait for a bit for it to steep, and then you drink the whole durn pot. OMG heaven.
However, I had come to expect that there would be Lisa’s Tea Treasures on every corner, peppering the city like frilly british starbuckses. I was so wrong.
Google search for tea: two tea manufacturers and five restaurants.
Google search for tea room: nothing
Google search for high tea: one hotel
Google search for afternoon tea: same results as just tea.
WTF. We decided that the plethora of tea rooms surrounding us on every side must just all be so quaint and adorable that they didn’t have websites, or web listings. I know, we were deranged. But we were hungry and I had put off my Tea demands until the last day. I know, I know.
We got in the car and drove to the coast. Cute adorable towns on the coast who get tourists coming through were bound to have tea rooms scattered amongst the bed and breakfasts. WRONG.
In four or five coastal villages we found one bistro with afternoon tea. Thinking we’d finally hit the jackpot we went in and their “afternoon tea” menu consisted of ONE Tea meal, with NOTHING I could eat because everything was meat except for the actual tea itself. And no scones. What is Tea without scones? How could Scotland let me down so badly?
In the end, we decided to venture back to the tiny cute tea room by Holyrood park, since it was the only one we’d seen. Surely they’d have Tea, and we’d just deal with the traffic and broohaha.
We were so wrong. We parked a mile away, because that was the closest we could get.
And let me just talk about parking for a minute.
The Scots are freakin’ maniacs behind the wheel. They’re aggressive and they drive fast and they don’t seem to notice that their roads are two inches wide. Also, with those roads that are barely able to fit one car, they will just pull over and park wherever they feel like it – on either side of the road they want – and you’ll be driving along on the
wrong left side of the road and suddenly here’s a car facing you taking up your entire lane! SCARY.
So to go to the tea shoppe, which was closing at 4:45, I parked at 4pm a mile away on the wrong side of the street.
Let me just talk about the scottish work ethic for a minute.
If a shop says it opens at 10, you should check at 10:15 to see if it’s maybe open. Don’t even think of having breakfast or coffee before then, let alone a book store or a clothing store. Scotland does not do mornings. Your store may not be open at 10, because the owner/shopkeeper may still be sleeping off the previous night. Just keep checking back and if you’re lucky it’ll open eventually.
If a shop says it closes at 5:30, at 5 they will shut and lock the doors. At 5:05 they will turn off the music. At 5:10 they will start vacuuming, and as you move around the store they will follow you with the vacuum. At 5:15 they will turn the lights off. At 5:20 they will start tapping their keys on the counter. The scots who work in retail have PERFECTED the art of passive aggression. They’re MASTERS. I was never able to stay in any shop until its actual closing time, so I have no idea if they beat you over the head with brooms – but I wouldn’t be surprised.
So when it was 4pm and I wanted Tea and the tea shoppe closed at 4:45, hangry Krys was in a panic.
Luckily, we got there and got seated in time. However, a quick read-through of the menu, and then another read through, and then a careful examination revealed that they did not have a Tea menu. That’s right, folks, this tea shoppe sold pots of tea and scones and sandwiches and did not offer afternoon Tea.
Let me just talk about afternoon Tea for a moment.
This is the most civilized and relaxing experience a human being can have. You arrive at an adorable quaint business and you’re seated by a sweet lady who may or may not be wearing a doily on her head. You peruse a menu of Teas while eating yummy little ginger cookies with lemon curd on them. Then you ring a bell and the doily lady appears with a solicitous smile and takes your order. Within moments, she brings you your meal in courses – scones with cream and jam, then tiny sandwiches with the crust cut off and strange combinations of ingredients that you’d never think would work but somehow deliciously do. Then you get your main course, something warm like a quiche or a soup or whatever. During all this, you’re sipping on your perfectly steeped, personally prepared pot of tea. And then, when you’re ready, a dessert tray magically appears in front of you and you choose the decadent way you’re going to end your meal. This is Tea. It’s not a meal, it’s a process.
We ordered sandwiches and tea and scones. I never got my scones, but the sandwiches were delicious. Except they came each on their own plate, full sized pieces of bread with the CRUST ON and potato chips and two kinds of salad on the side. Like at a diner. We left, full but not delighted.
And that’s when Edinburgh and I had our lover’s quarrel.
You see, I had parked like a Scot. And when we got back to our car (a mile’s walk after not having Tea and drinking a whole pot of tea) there was a Scottish Parking Enforcement officer putting a Scottish Parking ticket on our Scottish rental car.
For a good two hours Edinburgh and I were very angry with each other. We ended up working it out, and we’re good now, but it’s never going to be the same. And Edinburgh is going to have to accept that I’m going to be seeing other cities.
Edinburgh made it up to me by giving me the best book shop in the entire world. It was just around the corner from where we were staying, and it was hidden in the basement of a row of businesses. This place was totally the inspiration for Ollivander’s wand shop in Harry Potter.
Speaking of which, it’s very clear how much Edinburgh and Scotland in general influenced the Potter books. Hogwarts is totally a combination of Glasgow University and Edinburgh Castle. Diagon alley is any of the closes in old town, which are narrow streets surrounded by stone buildings and tiny shops. They even have a Night Bus. And the bus drivers drive like that, all the time. If you want to know what it’s like in Scotland, read those books.
In the end, we found an amazing book called House of Blackwood, all about Chris’s family, and we found some stuff published by Blackwood and Sons. So cool!We finished up our day with a fantastic dinner (the food in Scotland really did rock) and a walk in the park across the street from where we were staying.
And now, we’re home. While I already miss the highlands, it’s really good to be home. We’re enjoying fully cooked eggs and coffee that doesn’t drink us. More pictures are forthcoming, be warned.